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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Why do women choose "risky" births?

Whenever a tragic birth outcome makes the headlines, especially if it's perceived as "risky," I know women ask themselves, "How can a woman do this? What on earth was she thinking?" It's hard not to, but much of the time, I can totally understand why.

The death of any baby is tragic, and I guess hindsight is 20/20 when you pronounce the death "unavoidable." In the case of this Australian woman, who was attempting a VBAC at home after two cesareans, she was summarily lambasted for not following the advice of her doctor and "internet advisers" were blamed for giving her false information on what she should do. One woman said, "I blame the 'variation of normal' crowd." (The woman's baby was breech.)

Contrast that to this story, of an American woman who died of complications following her sixth cesarean section. No is blaming her for her risky decision to have so many cesareans, as I'm sure she took her doctor's advice - and I highly doubt he/she was pleading with this mother to "please have a VBAC! It's safer!"

What's the difference, really?

Why is accepting one death - that could have also been avoidable - okay, but not the other? Imagine if the Australian woman had decided on that third cesarean, perhaps going on to have more children and more cesareans, and ending up like the woman who died? Are we saying that's just an acceptable risk that you take and "so what?"

I see it as merely shifting the risk. The more you discourage VBAC in women who've only had one prior cesarean, especially in those who desire larger families, the more you end up hearing stories like this. It seems like our medical community, and society at large, is perfectly willing to believe in dangerous paradoxes - namely, that VBAC is dangerous and cesarean section is "perfectly safe." Many commenters were disgusted that she went against the advice of her doctor and attempted a VBAC, which was unfortunate; but for many women who do take that advice, you better believe their doctor can churn out just as much misinformation as that sandal-wearing hippie natural birth advocate you so despise. How is being the opposite side of the same coin any better?

Add the fact that very few hospitals receive an official "Mother-Baby Friendly" designation (not that that matters, I guess) or can seem to be supportive without treating mom like brainless chattel and it should be easy to see why women choose an alternative birth. How many times have you heard that it's damned-near impossible to have a normal, let alone natural (gasp!) birth in a hospital setting? I'm not saying it can't be done, just that it's usually difficult and you have to really work the system (which has quite a learning curve, let me tell you).

For those who frequently bitch about how reckless or crazy women are after disastrous home births, what are they doing to make hospital births more hospitable? Oh wait - they're usually the ones that tell you to just "let go of your anger and get over the 'birth experience' - just deal with it." I'm guessing they've never once cracked open a book that details some of the absolutely barbaric birth practices that "modern" obstetrics have put women through* over the generations, and for what? To be treated like a human guinea pig? Or the formidable, unmentionable "physicians" who like to demonize all women for even thinking about a home birth, much less having one - are they making stunning strides and initiatives to support women in a comfortable, accommodating hospital atmosphere? Or just complaining about it and publishing the names and addresses of those women who've lost children in home births?

I'm not sure how I managed it, but I had a VBAC in 2006 and sort of fell into an OB's practice that would actually "let me" do it. I don't think I had any clue how difficult it is for some women to have one. If I hear someone say "just find a supportive OB and hospital with lots of experiences in VBAC" one more time I'm going to scream. Because it's definitely not that easy.

From the ICAN website.
If you look at this list, many are rural hospitals or in smaller towns. And many are hospitals in large cities. I'd like to know how you are just going to up and "find a supportive hospital" when they don't seem to exist. If you live in the boonies, your options for supportive hospitals and OBs or midwives is probably pretty limited, and I'm willing to bet the cesarean and induction rates at those hospitals that serve rural women are through the roof. ACOG Guidelines be damned; they aren't offering up an attorney, birth doula or physician to see you through your VBAC - which means the "guidelines" they issue do little to help the patient if a doctor can just pick and choose which guidelines to follow.

(*And for the record, I'm not intimating for one second that before modern obstetrics, women didn't suffer or go through torturous experiences in order to birth children, sometimes with disastrous results. But I think our glorification of modern medicine might be, at times, misguided and perhaps glosses over  its sordid history and past failings.)

More reading:
The "C" in ACOG stands for "castrated"
Tori Spelling and cesarean complications: why we need to hear about it